For the past year, I’ve been listening to a large amount of Americana music thinking about putting together a new radio show to feature the genre. While I’ve always enjoyed the different elements of Americana, it’s still been a steep learning curve, and fortunately I’ve had a number of people turning me on to great artists that I’ve never explored.
One of my publicist friends recently sent me a great collection titled Come And Get It from a collective known as Americana Kitchen. The brainchild of Danny Johnson, who wrote all of the songs on the two albums, he brought together great musicians and vocalists to explore different sounds.
On several occasions, Johnson and his colleagues delivered several interpretations of the same song. Each one highlighted a different approach and many of them are exciting and no matter what style you might enjoy, you’re bound to find something that will impress you.
The first album is made up of 10 tracks from 5 different artists: “Jumping Jack” Benny Cortez, Michael Sanchez, Francesca Capasso, Michelle Sanchez, and Andee Avila. First up is Hard Love with Cortez taking the lead on vocals. A pop rock tune with nice keyboard and saxophone breaks, it’s a pleasant enough song and certainly whets your appetite for the other songs on the album. It’s easy to see that this song would get airplay on the Top 40 stations.
The next song, New World, features Michael Sanchez getting funky. The electric piano is exhilarating and the beat is infectious. I remember a few nights in hazy nightclubs listening to music like this. The lyrics have a strong backbone, and while I don’t listen to a whole lot of modern funk, this is a song I could get behind.
Francesca Capasso follows up with You Better Think Twice, with a jazzy cabaret inspired touch. Love the sax and bass combo that accompanies the piano intro. Capasso’s voice is low and sultry and beckons you into the world of the song. Occasionally I get to sit in for our regular jazz host, and the next time I do, I’m slipping this song into my playlist. Love this one and can’t wait to hear more from Capasso.
Next up is “Jumping Jack” Benny Cortez again with the first appearance of Blood Of The Blues. It’s also first appearance of straight up blues on the album. Cortez sinks his teeth into the number and the band tightens up to create a great sound for him. Listen for a sweet guitar break that should appeal to any blues guitar lover. Definitely a contender to appear on Time For The Blues.
Capasso is back for the next song, Run Little Red. Here she takes on a pop/rock tune with a voice that starts out so different from the approach she used on You Better Think Twice. She’s definitely versatile, and when she moves from the sweet cutie pie opening to the sexy growl she uses for the rest of the Chuck Berry-inspired song, it truly comes to life. She’s definitely 2-for-2 on this album, and I’m already searching her name to try to find other releases that feature her work.
Michael and Michelle Sanchez team up on In Real Life, an R&B soul song that would be at home on any album by Luther Vandross. I’ll be putting this one on my late evening playlists as I try to get mellow after a long day of putting up with stuff. It’s sweet, strong, and thoroughly intoxicating.
Campasso is back with some exciting roadhouse rock and roll on Living Out Loud. She just kicks it from first note to last and it’s the kind of song that’s loud and out of control. The band is rocking hard and I doubt any person seeing this live would remain in their song for more than a few bars before getting up and shaking it on the dance floor. Hell, I don’t even drink anymore and I was looking around for a cold beer during this song!
Speaking of Capasso, for the next song, she teams up with Andee Avila. They join forces for The Christmas Song, not the one by Mel Tormé with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but a pop rock ballad with country overtones. It’s not exactly my cup of eggnog, but it will find a way into rotation during the holidays for sure. There’s some great guitar work and the vocals are strong.
Cortez is back for the next song, a blues tune titled Catch That Train. Oh yeah, it rocks, and it should be going out over our airwaves very soon. It’s a solid shuffle and Cortez performs the song with a great deal of verve. This song could grace just about any Chicago stage, and should bring a smile to any blues lover’s face.
This album closes out with one last song from Francesca Capasso, Blood Of The Blues, that she interprets as modern jazz. The lyrics have lost none of their power in this interpretation, the musicians set up a beautiful background for her, and I’ll be playing this one on sometime when I’m sitting in for our jazz host. Great song, it just be my favorite on this first album.
I can’t wait to see what’s on the second album in this collection. Fortunately, I only have to wait long enough to cue up the next one.
I’m in luck as the first song also belongs to Francesca Capasso. This song is a pop country track called All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go, and even though I’m a big traditional country fan, I’m just not the audience for this particular genre. It’s not bad and when I played it for a few friends who are fans, they all agreed that it was one they enjoyed and would like to add to their collections.
Next up is an interesting experiment as Cortez delivers a country take on a song he performed as a pop rock tune on the first album. Hard Love has a little more old school flavor than All Dressed Up, but even though Cortez can rock the vocals, this version just seemed like it was searching for a comfortable sound that the performers just couldn’t make happen. Not my favorite track, although I did like the fiddle and thought it sounded more like a Celtic interpretation than a country one.
Capasso comes back on the next song, a bluegrass interpretation of Living Out Loud. You may find this hard to believe, but I absolutely love bluegrass, and this song is a lot of fun with enough energy for any punk band. Capasso’s voice rips through the song and the interplay between the instruments is infectious and could bring a smile to a statue! Even if you don’t usually care for bluesgrass, you just might find yourself slipping into a pair of clogging shoes and moving around a bit.
Big Mike Vasquez makes an appearance on the Cajun inspired Just Fine For Now. You have to love the sound of an button accordion playing off the rhythm section and guitar. Vasquez has a good voice that’s warm and inviting at the same time. I like this one a lot.
Capasso then performs a solo version of The Christmas Song in a pop country fashion, and while the song again doesn’t do it for me, I hear some lovely things in her voice. I might have even been tempted to cut it further down and see how it would sound in more of a folk vein. Don’t know what she would have done with it, but I still love her voice in a big way. What a find!
Michelle Sanchez is next with So Tired Of Runnin’. You can hear the Eagles’ influence in the country rock sounds of the song. It’s a little heavier on the country than the rock, but that’s just me splitting hairs. It’s a nice ballad and will find a lot of people who will love it.
Cortez is back with his bluesy take on You Better Think Twice. The guitar work sounds like it just rolled in off the delta and the rhythm section delivers a great pocket. The song works well in either genre, jazz or blues. I can easily see this one making it onto a show, especially with that great harp break.
Michelle Sanchez returns with the gospel number, Jesus I’ve Got A Friend In You. It starts off slow and easy like a beautiful Sunday dawn and Sanchez’ voice rises to fill up all the space around. It’s easy to be flip and just say that gospel has a lot of soul, but if you ever get a chance to listen to more than one or two songs, you’ll discover that it’s some of the deepest felt music around. This is a good number that should leave your spiritual cup filled and a smile on your face. Sweet and uplifting.
Michael Sanchez returns for his bluesy version of Catch That Train. This version has a harder edge than the version on the first album and will most likely be the version that we play on Time For The Blues. I can even see this version popping up in the repertoire of bar bands all across the country and I can see people really enjoying it. You heard that here first!
This album ends with one last song from Francesca Capasso. She delivers a country rock ballad of Blood Of The Blues. It starts off nice and dark (just as you might think with a title like that) and it sounds like a very cool noir tune. I don’t really hear the country version of the song and Capasso’s voice actually gave me chills a couple of times. This one is already on my private playlist, and expect me to pull it out at a later date when I want to create a heavier mood.
Okay, two albums with a number of songs with various interpretations that shows how music can be interpreted in a variety of ways. When you see the Americana label on songs, what do you envision? Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of it, and I’ve found that the label stretches to cover a number of great genres. Blues, folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, Cajun, and others get mixed together, much like the United States did with all of the people who came here and brought their music with them. For many musicians, music does not have borders, music just is. It’s good or bad, it moves you or it doesn’t. Much of this music moves me, and those songs that don’t, are still interesting and I’m glad I’ve heard them.
Americana Kitchen has given me a better appreciation of artists who were not on my radar, but will be from now on. Is this the beginning of a new series of albums? I sure hope so.